Yesterday we went with President & Sister Clawson and the Zone Leaders to Kailahun and then to Tongo Field. Since both of these communities were at the forefront of the civil war that started on 23 March 1991, we thought it would be a good time to write about the war, what caused it and some of the atrocities surrounding it.
It was in the Kailahun district that the first shot was fired on that day in March 1991 by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) under the leadership of Foday Sankoh and it was in Tongo that rich reserves of alluvial diamonds were mined to fund the rebel cause. As we have traveled to Tongo each week to teach the people the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have come to a better understanding of what happened and the impact of the war. John Charles is one of our best investigators. He is very knowledgeable about the scriptures and the doctrine as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He was born and raised in Tongo and stayed there through the first 3 years of the war. He finally left in 1994, going to Freetown to seek safety. He returned in 1997 after the initial peace accord was signed, only to find everything that he once owned completely destroyed.
He slowly began the process of rebuilding even though the war would drag on for another 4 years. The house that he grew up in was burned and the cement walls destroyed, causing him to rebuild a home from mud and sticks. Fortunately, his mango, coconut, lime and banana trees survived the ordeal. He told me this past week that the area where they now live used to be a thriving community with many homes, but the area was nearly completely destroyed by the warring factions and much of what is there now has been rebuilt in the last 17 years.
Foday Sankoh and his newly formed Revolutionary United Front (RUF), with support from Liberia’s President Charles Taylor and his special forces, set out to overthrow the corrupt Sierra Leone government of Joseph Momoh. Momoh had been in power since November, 1985 and history records that he was an exceptionally inept leader who allowed his corrupt advisors to strip money out of what was left of a deteriorating Sierra Leone economy. His predecessor, Siaka Stevens had run the country for 17 years, destroying and perverting nearly every state institution. In fact, Stevens corrupt rule was referred to as “the 17- year plague of locusts” by Ghanaian economist George Ayittey.
When Stevens stepped down and handed the government to Momoh, the status quo prevailed and corruption led the economy to near complete collapse. Six years into his presidency, and after the war started in 1991, he began initiating two major reforms. First, to recreate a multiparty democracy that Stevens had destroyed, and second, to dissolve tribalism. Unfortunately, the reforms which were good for the country came too late and in April 1992, a military coup by a young government military captain named Valentine Stasser, angered by the poor working conditions, unpaid salaries and lack of any real government support, overthrew Momoh and ousted him from power. By then the civil war was in full swing and the RUF controlled large swathes of the diamond rich eastern and southern regions of Sierra Leone. It was from these diamonds that the rebels purchased weapons and ammunitions.
The war persisted for 11 years with many twists and subplots wrapped in complexity. As already mentioned, the Abidijan Peace Accord was signed by Sankoh in 1996, but it didn’t hold and the war raged on until 2001. It is estimated that 50,000 people were killed in the fighting. Foday Sankoh’s goal of becoming President of Sierra Leone and eliminating corruption and poverty not only fell short, but his vision was completely lost in the cruelties of war.
Crimes committed included RUF mass killings of civilians, the forcible induction of children into front line military action (something that both the RUF and the government did) and sex crimes including rape and sex slavery, 93% of which were committed by the RUF. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) estimated over 200,000 rapes were committed during the war. There were four major factions involved in the fighting. The RUF and the government forces have already been mentioned. The third was an independent, but pro-government force called the Kamajors. The Kamajors were a grassroots militia force that operated nearly invisibly. They took up arms to defend villages from marauding rebel and government forces. Joining with the Kamajors was a way for civilians to protect themselves and their property, clashing with both government and RUF forces. The success of the Kamajors encouraged its expansion and displaced members of street gangs and deserters were co-opted into the organization. Unfortunately, the ravages of war took their toll on the Kamajors as they too became corrupt and deeply involved in extortion, murder, and kidnappings. The fourth group was Executive Outcomes or EO for short. EO was a South Africa-based private military company, hired by the government to repel the RUF. In 1996, a civilian government was elected and the retreating RUF signed the Abidjan Peace Accord. Under UN pressure due to funding, the government was compelled to terminate its contract with EO before the peace plan was implemented and the war hostilities began anew.
Because Sierra Leone was a former colony and current UK Commonwealth member, in May 2000, the United Kingdom got involved in the conflict. The British successfully encouraged a new UN mandate and with help from Guinean cross border air raids, the RUF was finally defeated. On 18 January 2002, the war was over and peace once again came to Sierra Leone. It cannot be stressed enough just how significant a toll the war took on this country in terms of morale, infrastructure, investment and family life.
On Monday, we decided to finally find a carpenter to make a new table top for us so while out delivering propane to the Airfield Apartment elders, I stopped by a recommended shop and spoke to the “boss man” whose name is Bockarie. Later that day we took the table over, described what we needed and agreed a price. The table top is too small for the bottom of the table. The result is a tripping hazard. We had tripped over it a number of times, but when LaDawn tripped over it and fell, we knew it was time to take action. The table will be done next Monday and we are hoping the shop will live up to its reputation.
On Monday we also went to Bo and had a wonderful dinner prepared by the Moomey’s. They were kind to offer to cook a dinner for the small amount of help we gave them to get solar installed in their apartment. I would say it was a lopsided trade as the food was amazing as always!
On Tuesday we worked on the training for the District Council that was held on Saturday evening. It was also time to renew the data plan on our unlimited SierraTel MIFI and LaDawn needed new data on her phone from Orange. It is always painful to keep our internet refreshed and renewed each month, but we are so grateful to have access to the internet that we don’t mind the inconvenience of driving, parking, waiting and then securing a receipt (sometimes the part that takes the longest!). Everything here is handwritten. There are no computers and no printers to produce receipts. Interestingly, copies of the receipts are seldom kept by the seller, they simply provide them as a service to the customer, but do not use them to keep track of their sales. SierraTel is an exception, they keep the receipts and log every sale. Orange, however, has no written record of sales, but I am sure do their recordkeeping based on how much data they sell which is in their system. Then they have to match the money they collect with the data they sell. It must be a nightmare based on what I see in regards to how they transact business.
Wednesday morning we had appointments for Solomon Amara and Smith Tamba Barclay to receive their patriarchal blessings from Brother Berewa in Bo. We already had Smith’s recommend, but had trouble getting Solomon’s because the computer in their branch was down and had been sent to Freetown for repairs. Their clerk (Ibrahim Saffa) had met with the clerk in the Kenema Branch (Bockarie Samai), but there was no power to turn on their computer and their generator has been down for some time now, so they hit a dead end. So at 7 pm on Tuesday evening, in an effort to help him get a recommend, I was able to get with the clerk of the Nyandeyama Branch (Augustine Bangura) and with Ibrahim Saffa on the line he walked Augustine through how to get the form from MLS (not LCR) and we managed to get it filled out and printed. President Lamina then gratefully drove to our home on his motorbike at 8:30 pm and signed the form. This is just one example of how a very simple process can, at times, be difficult. There is a saying that we hear often. It goes like this: “it is not easy here in Africa”. And it is true, everything seems to be more difficult than it needs to be.
We have been talking a lot about Brother Berewa each week and how much we love this good man. He has been so willing to work with us and help these young men and women going on missions to receive their blessings. This week, I decided to snap a picture of him with both Solomon and Smith. You can see the goodness in this man even in the picture.
After returning from Bo on Wednesday, we met with Lucinda Kallon and David Gbow. They are the Gospel Literacy instructors for Kenema Branch and we met with them to train them on the new materials and to provide them the new books. They are both wonderful, devoted and talented teachers and will do well with the revised and updated program. They started it yesterday after church and we are eager to hear how it went.
On Thursday we attended the District Council of the South District with Elder McCracken Elder Luaba, Sister Blama Kai, Sister Kisangala, Sister Sarfoa and Sister Yuku. The Zone Leaders were also in attendance. We had an amazing discussion on accountability and LaDawn made a comment which I thought was both profound and simple. “We will always be accountable to God in everything”. The point being that whether or not we choose to accept our responsibilities and be accountable for fulfilling them, God will hold us accountable for doing what we said we would do. It was a wonderful council meeting and the spirit bore witness that this is God’s work and that we all must do our part, whatever that part is.
The other highlight of Thursday was going with the Zone Leaders to give Lasana Massaquoi a blessing. Lasana lives in Tongo and is one of our best investigators. He is a gentle, yet strong man. He came to Kenema because of an ulcer that was causing him significant problems (at least that is what the diagnosis was). He was not feeling well for sure. We were able to give him a blessing and we were all so happy to hear that he was released from the hospital the next day and was with us in Tongo on Sunday. He even bore his testimony about the miracle that occurred in his life through the priesthood blessing.
On Friday we went to Tongo and were able to teach 10 people. Peter, Mary, Adama, Ibrahim, John, Rebekah Grace, Konowa, Kadie, and Sahr Lahai and his son Daniel. Still a glorious day on all counts. I personally find great joy in the way that especially Sahr Lahai’s grandchildren are attracted to Elder Wallentine. They want to sit by him, shake his hand, smile at him or just do anything else that involves him. This week he bought a bunch of children in the neighborhood each a mango from one of Sahr’s grown daughters who was selling near their home. An amazing young man that will be a great father one day, patterned after his own father I suspect.
Friday evening, we went over and again visited with Eku Scotland. He had read through the entire Plan of Salvation booklet that we have discussed in the past. He really is drawn to the Plan, and perhaps it is because he has lost 4 children that he feels a longing for these things to be true. It is obvious to us that he is beginning to feel his own testimony of their truths grow. We had also asked him to read Moroni chapter 7, but as always, he continued to read right through to the end of the book. He loved the phrase “the peaceable followers of Christ” found in verse 3.
We talked about the light of Christ and how every man is born with this great gift but often through their own actions dim the light in their life. We talked about the angels mentioned in verse 29 continuing to minister unto the children of men and he shared with us that he has had his own experiences with angels that testify to him that this statement is true. We spoke about the repeating hope-faith-hope-faith-hope-faith cycle which resonated with him. He also loved the discussion about the meek and lowly of heart and how that leads to charity and then in chapter 8 we talked about how repentance is what leads us to be meek and lowly. It was such a wonderful discussion that we spoke until the light was gone and I had to pull out the light on my phone so he could read the last scripture. He told us that next week we need to come at 5:00 instead of 5:30 so that we can talk longer. We have said it before, but we will say it again. We love the simple faith and the extreme goodness of this man.
On Saturday morning we left at 6:00 am and took the Sister Training Leaders back to Bo. They had been here for an exchange with the sisters next door. We were back by 8:00 am and then off to the district center to do some family history work with the IDA Elders, Elder Hadlock and Elder MaKaafi. They had again been working with members in their branch to submit names to the temple. Morie Amara and Patrick Odugu were together able to prepare names for 33 temple ordinances for 8 people. They have more work to do, but really got off to a great start. Both have been members for a year or less.
Saturday evening I attended the District [High] Council meeting. It was the first time there were more than 6 councilors present, as we had 8 in attendance. There were two that were unable to come and four more to call. We spent about an hour reviewing their duties as a district councilor and then answering a few questions. President Cobinah talked about their specific duties and the importance of confidentiality before announcing that that two of those in the meeting were being released to be called to new positions. Samuel Fomba was released and called as the new first counselor in the District Presidency to replace President Braima who has been very ill. Joseph Aruna was also released and called as the new branch president in Dauda Town branch. These are both wonderful men who were sustained across the district on Sunday and now will begin their service. It was a great meeting with new district councilors that we will work with and get to know better. The momentum of the district is increasing!
After returning back to the apartment, we were able to have a delicious meal that LaDawn had prepared for President & Sister Clawson who had just arrived after an afternoon of interviews and meetings in Bo.
On Sunday morning we again arose early and set off for Kailahun. We picked up Stanford Moijueh (pronounced MoJoy) and the Zone Leaders and headed east. Br. Moijueh is the new district councilor with responsibilities for both Kailahun and Tongo.
We arrived in Kailahun about 8:50 am, again grateful for the improvements to the road that allowed us to make the trip in 2 hours instead of 3. We had a wonderful sacrament meeting with talks by the new first counselor in the branch presidency on tithing and a talk by Jamie Moijueh on the attributes of Christ. Both were excellent. President Clawson then spoke to the congregation about how reading the scriptures and partaking of the sacrament can help us become more like Christ and we all do that a little bit at a time as we make progress. There were 122 in attendance (they have 90 members on the church directory) with many who are being taught the gospel in attendance. President Clawson interviewed 9 members for temple recommends to receive their own endowments in the near future. And to think that this branch is only a year old.
I couldn’t help but record their choir singing Hymn #286, O What Songs of the Heart. It was wonderful! (And I might add LaDawn did a great job accompanying them!)
From Kailahun we jumped back into the Clawson’s Fortuner and headed to Tongo, arriving there at 2:50 pm. We had asked them to move their sacrament meeting to the afternoon so we could attend. There were 48 people in attendance in Tongo, 13 of us were members. The rest are investigators. Again a wonderful sacrament meeting. John Charles spoke, followed by Sister Messi’s daughter who was visiting from Freetown. Both gave excellent talks on prayer. President Clawson then spoke about how we can be blessed by our afflictions if we have faith and a willingness to stay true to the covenants we have made. After sacrament meeting we moved our chairs in a circle and had a short testimony meeting. It was amazing to hear these investigators bear testimony of the Book of Mormon and the spirit they have felt as they have learned about the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was here that Lasana bore his testimony about his miracle in the hospital with the priesthood blessing. Following the testimony meeting, the Primary children joined us and we took a picture of the entire group. We love the spirit that we feel in Tongo!
We made it back home about 6:30 pm after a very long and rewarding day. The Clawson’s were able to eat a quick dinner for us that LaDawn had prepared on Saturday (sloppy joes) and then they were off to Bo. How grateful we are to them for their tireless and endless sacrifice and servants. We loved being able to spend the day with them in these two amazing congregations far from the center of the district here in Kenema.
The civil war here in Sierra Leone was debilitating to the country and to the people. We take great joy in being a small part of the effort to build Sierra Leone back into a strong country by helping to strengthen the people of this nation. Today I spoke to two different individuals that we have befriended here (they shall remain nameless) about their experience with the war. One was drafted into the government army and then left and went to Liberia when he saw the atrocities that were being committed by the soldiers. The other man had an uncle who was captured by the rebels and as a 24-year old, went to save him. In his attempt, he too was captured and the rebels “convinced” him to join them. He agreed for the purpose of finding and freeing his uncle, which he eventually was able to do. He quickly rose to a squad leader and the gained the trust of his superiors. This allowed him to save not just his uncle but many others who would have been killed. After just more than 6 months as a “rebel”, he returned to Kenema as a civilian at the pleading of his father. This is the quality of the people that we find here. There is deep goodness in them and in the worst of situations, they will still choose to do the right thing and refuse to do the wrong thing.
There is a war that continues to rage here and in all of Africa, in fact, it rages across the globe. It is the struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, Jesus Christ and Lucifer. We know the outcome of this war and we are pleased to be working hand in hand with the people here in the Kenema District, our Mission President and his wife and the entire leadership of the church here in West Africa, as we do our part to strengthen the “soldiers” on the front lines.